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Sunday, May 30, 2010

How I Went from a Nurse to a Photographer

[Disclaimer: This post took me weeks to write and now that I'm finished with it, I'm too tired to add in a bunch of photos. So be warned, it's long and it's wordy. I apologize for the lack of photos, but the rest of this blog makes up for it, I suppose. If you want to grab a cup of coffee or a pop and make yourself comfortable, kick your feet up and dive in. Here is my story.]

I've been asked many times in the past how I ended up where I am at: a nurse, working as a photographer. Sometimes I find myself amazed, wondering the same exact thing - how did I get here? How did I get so lucky?

I've never been one who felt like I had much of a testimony to share about my faith - I haven't had a born-again moment or a moment where I've felt was a near-death experience that God saved me. My faith has been one that has ridden out bumps and hills over the course of my life, but because I was raised in a Christian home, it's always been there, a silent companion to my life.

But now, I feel like my story is my testimony. I am where I am right now, because of God, and because He answered my prayers.

Let's start in the beginning. I am a perfectionist; I always have been. I'm an introvert [mostly] and I like my comfort bubble. I've always been an overachiever, and I don't like to fail - my fear of failure has limited me a lot in my past. I quit sports, refrained from trying out for different activities etc, because I was afraid to fail.

Education has always come easily to me - school was not much of a struggle. I did very well in school, but I also tried hard. Math and science were the most fun and interesting for me, even though I loved to write for fun. I wish I could count the number of times that people said to me, "You're smart. You should be a doctor." Kids love to play medicine, and I was no different. My sister and I both loved to make each other be the sick patient and to doctor each other up. I spent my childhood going back and forth between wanting to be a teacher, wanting to own a Canadian fishing resort, and wanting to be a doctor. When high school came around, I decided I wanted to be a dermatologist. [I had acne. This was the doctor I was seeing the most of at the time.]

All my college application essays referred to how I wanted to go into medicine and be a dermatologist. I was accepted to St. Scholastica and planned to get a biology degree, with Pre-Med intentions. I was matched with a roommate who was planning on getting a Nursing degree.

Matt and I spent the first year of college mostly broken up. We didn't talk for months, then we would start to talk again and then we'd get back together. Then we broke up again. By the end of my freshman year, I had begun to second guess my career in medicine. Even though I wasn't dating Matt at the time, I knew that I wanted to get married and have kids someday. I didn't want to be a doctor bad enough to go through medical school and to sacrifice my personal life and time to achieve the academic goals that medicine requires. [I'm by no means saying that people in medicine can't have lives or can't be moms and have kids. I merely mean that I didn't want it bad enough to be ok with the sacrifices that come along with being a doctor. For those who want it bad enough, the sacrifices are well worth it.]
I started to look at other options. I met with different academic advisers to look at different avenues. For a brief segment at the end of freshman year, I thought Physical Therapy was more up my ally - a 6 year program and relatively normal work hours. I even shadowed a PT over one of my breaks.

Then, as luck or fate would have it, the summer between freshman and sophomore year of college, Matt and I reconciled. We had dated all through high school, broken up and branched out, and then found each other that summer. We set aside all the hurt and hard feelings, the baggage and the past, and we started over. By this time, Matt had already enlisted in the Marine Corps. He would be leaving in the fall of my sophomore year. The summer was spent working hard and playing harder - we both felt the squeeze of our limited time on us and our relationship, and we felt ourselves reconnecting and rekindling the love that we had felt in high school. The hurts melted away and our high school loved turned more serious.

By this time, I began to think that maybe PT wasn't right for me - honestly, I just wanted to get a degree in as little time as possible. I knew that I wanted to spend my life with Matt and him leaving for 4 years and being stationed on a military base someplace other than Minnesota meant that I just wanted to be wherever he was. I began to research Nursing and because 1 - it was still science, 2 - My mother-in-law, aunt-in-law, grandma-in-law, and my 2 of own aunts were nurses, 3 - It was a 4 year degree, guaranteed to get me out with a degree on time, I decided that was perfect.

So, sophomore year began, I switched my academic advisor yet again and caught up on the remaining Gen Eds that I needed to join the program in January with my peers. I made it - I joined CSS's Nursing class of 2008 in January of 2006.

Matt went to bootcamp in November of 2005. We went to CA to see him graduate in February of 2006, and I knew we would be together forever. It wasn't petty high school infatuation anymore, it was real. We both knew it. The past was the past and the future was ours. He spent Feb-June of 2006 in CA training, and I visited twice more. My visits were amazing but extremely difficult at the same time. Leaving was horrible - I had to do everything in my power to keep myself from turning around and leaving the airport. To keep myself from dropping out of college and staying in CA with him. My friend Anna who's then-boyfriend, now-husband was a Marine too, and we both went to CA in March to visit our guys. We both wanted to drop out and stay. My poor mom thought I'd gone insane when I talked to her on the phone that week.

But, I came home. I am sensible. There's no way that I would have dropped out of college and moved out to CA by myself; I was too practical for that. In June of 2006, Matt found out that he was being stationed in Hawaii. Oahu would be his new home for the next 3 years. I wanted to move ASAP.

But, I didn't. I kept my eyes on May, 2008 - Graduation Day and the day that I would be able to move to Hawaii with Matt. I enjoyed my nursing classes and I learned so much. I loved learning the material and taking tests - it was kind of weird even. I met so many amazing people in the program.

Matt deployed to Iraq in March of 2007 and I busily planned our wedding. He returned in Oct 07, and we married in Dec 2007. Then I went back to college for my last semester. Matt returned to Oahu.

That was the hardest part - being separated while he was just living and training in Hawaii. Obviously when he was deployed, even if I was in Hawaii, we'd have been separated. It was easy to deal with the distance when there was no way around it. But when he was in Hawaii, at BBQs with his friends and all of their wives [I was one of the last ones to move out there,] it was so, so tough. I visited often [4 times in 5 or 6 months] and I absolutely dreaded leaving each time. But I survived.

May of 2008 rolled around and I happily accepted my diploma and sadly said goodbye to my home for the last 4 years and goodbye to my amazing friends that I'd made over the last almost half decade. Those girls had seen me through college classes, late night parties, fights, breakups, and even an Iraq deployment.

As fate would have it, just as I was free to move to where he was, Matt was set to deploy 2 months later. He left for Iraq again in August of 2008. I planned my move for January of 09. That meant I had 7 months to spare before I would move...

I took my nursing boards after weeks of studying and felt a sense of relief and confidence, followed by dread as I awaited my score. I passed, and proudly laminated my nursing card that read Laura Radniecki, RN. [Or maybe it says BSN, I forget.] I decided that I would try to get a nursing job for the 7 months that I would be waiting to move to HI. I applied and interviewed for a temporary position, but because the economy was beginning to tip downward and budgets became limited, they simply used the nurses they had when others went out on maternity leave.

To be honest, I was happy I didn't have to work. Matt was deployed, I was living at home, and we were collecting BAH. I didn't spend much and neither did he; we saved a lot. I worked at the resort like every summer before, and saved even more. I counted the days.

The thing is, I had never felt 100% sure that Nursing was my 'calling'. I believed that I might be one of those people that never really LOVE their job; they just do it because it's a means to an end. It's a way of supporting their family, their hobbies and everything else they love to do. My aunt is one of those people - she didn't hate her job, but she didn't miss it when she retired. She liked it well enough to do it for years, but never felt passionate about it.

I would have mild [ok huge] anxiety about clinicals and about my internships in the hospital. Maybe it's because I was afraid of doing something wrong, and I was totally out of my comfort zone, which like I said, always made me super uncomfortable and nervous/worried/crazy. I completed them and I did fine - I didn't die and I didn't kill anyone. But I never felt excited about it the prospect of getting a nursing job and making a career out of it.

Then, January 09 rolled around. I moved to Oahu. Because of the saving we'd done while Matt was deployed and because we were only going to be living in Hawaii for 8 more months, we decided that I wouldn't even attempt to look for and get a nursing job. I would relax after 4 years of college, and be available to travel the island, go to the beach, do whatever we wanted, whenever Matt wasn't working. The thing about the Marines is that there's no stability to your hours, especially in the infantry. I never wanted to have Matt get off of work early one day and be like "Hey, let's go to the beach!" and me have to say, "Can't. I have to go to work." So, I didn't work. And I loved every minute of it.

I know that some people looked down on me for not working; others wondered how I didn't go crazy with boredom. I have never regretted our decision to have me not work, and neither has Matt. I absolutely treasured every minute that we got to spend together, on Oahu. And I was so not bored!
When I would think about Matt getting out of the Marines and us moving home, I would think about be applying for and hopefully get a nursing job. I pictured myself going to work every day on whatever floor I got a job on, and I was not excited. Actually, I felt dread. Worry. Anxiety. I followed the lives of my classmates on Facebook, seeing them get hired at different hospitals, on different floors and read about how they loved work, or how much they learned on a particular night. While I was completely happy for them, I was not excited to do that myself.

So, I started to pray.

I prayed that either A - I would have an attitude adjustment when I thought about working as a nurse, and that I would feel peace when I pictured my life as an RN, or that B - I would find something else. If I was meant to do something else, I prayed I'd find it. I had no idea what 'something else' could be, but I prayed that I'd find it.

Matt got home in March of 09, and we went to Maui the last few days of March. The first weekend in April, a girl I knew on Facebook was talking about how she had just bought her first DSLR camera. Matt's stepmom Lori has a DSLR that I'd seen before, and I'd always that, "Someday, I'll have a really nice camera like that." Matt and I talked about it and we thought what the heck - now's as good of time as any to get one.

So, we drove to the NEX [Navy Exchange] and walked to the camera department. We looked in the display, I compared megapixels [the only thing I really knew about cameras at that point] and we bought the one with the best value - a Sony a200. When we got home, I set the box on the floor and made lunch. An hour or two later Matt asked, "Aren't you going to open it?" I laughed and said that I was intimidated by it! Silly, I know. So I opened the box, took out the manual and started to read it while the battery charged. As I read, I had my computer open and I would think, "What is this word, Aperture??" Google - What is Aperture? After I read the book [and only understood less than half], I put the newly charged battery in the camera and took some pictures inside because it was night time by then. The pictures were decent and I was happy.

The next morning, Matt went to work and I took the camera out for a spin. I walked along the bike path behind our house and it took maybe 3 minutes for me to realize that a whole new world had been opened up to me. I texted Matt, "I'm SO IN LOVE with this camera!" I was. I was hooked.

The next few weeks were a whirlwind of internet research, trial and error, exploration into the world of dslr photography and immense learning. In May, my friend Maggie came out to visit and she happily played the role of my model as we toured the island, doing all the touristy things Oahu has to offer. I was hooked on that camera.

In my hunt for information about things such as aperture, shutter speed, manual mode, ISO etc, I came across many invaluable resources such as Digital Photography School as well as a good number of blogs about photography. I didn't even know what a blog was before my crush on photography began. Some of the blogs I came across are ones that I still follow religiously, years later. I began to think about the life of a photographer.

On a military base, there are a lot of wives who are photography fans and many have photography businesses where they shoot homecomings or family photos. I thought to myself, "I could do that." I know, it started as an idealistic and wishful thought but I decided to see what I could do with my camera. I started a photography blog and a Facebook Fan Page. I started under a different business name than the one I operate under now. I used Google constantly and quickly learned what the business side of photography was like.

I had my first paid shoots in August of '09 [Homecoming shoots] and my first family shoot in September. I posted the photos online; on Facebook and on my blog. Over the course of the next few months, Matt and I left Oahu, traveled California and ventured back to Minnesota. My mind was on photography and on the prospect of having my own business constantly. Matt would get on my case sometimes because I'd have a hard time sleeping. My mind was always running.

I researched how to make a website and I bought my domain. I created my website and Laura Radniecki Images was officially born. My blog went from a personal one and a photography-related one to just one - The Rad Life. Facebook has been my biggest blessing as it has allowed me to get my name out and reach the most people. Thanks to my age, and the age of my sister, a lot of people I have on facebook are getting married and having babies. My name began to spread and continued to do so with each shoot I blogged about.

A lovely girl, one of my sister's friends, became my first officially booked wedding client. She contacted me during Matt and my road trip and I seriously thought I was dreaming. She believed in me and my work enough to book me, knowing that I was new. I am so thankful she did.

My website continues to get more hits as Google directs people to it, and as my blog spreads around the internet. I am so thankful for each person that clicks on the posts from Facebook, to read my updates, or who stumbles upon it while surfing the internet. I owe a lot of my success to you.

So. To answer the question, "How did you go from a Nurse to a Photographer?" - my simple answer is this. God led me to it. I prayed hard and he opened this amazing and beautiful door for me. He took an introvert and comfort-bubble-lover and gave her the courage to break out of the expected and forge ahead on a totally uncharted path. He gave her the courage and strength to research and learn what is necessary to start a business from nothing. He gave her the most patient and supportive husband to stand beside her and help with this journey. He helped reassure her when she had moments of doubts. He made it possible.

I never had an AH HAH! moment where I said to myself, "I am supposed to be a photographer! God wants me to be a photographer!" What happened instead was I had an idea. I began to develop that idea into a plan and a reality and nothing major came in my way. Nothing presented itself as a big enough road block to stop me from continuing. I believe that God continued to open each door as if to nudge me along and say, "Yes, you are on the right path. Keep going." Each shoot that I book is further confirmation that God knows I'm right where I belong. Each time someone looks at my photos and smiles, I know I'm doing what I'm meant to be doing. Each time I witness something so sweet or so beautiful that it springs tears to my eyes, I thank God that I get to do what I am doing.

I feel beyond blessed. I only hope that I continue to be blessed with these amazing opportunities. It's all up to Him.

**Matt, thank you for being by my side through this whole crazy journey. I would never, ever have gotten this far without you. I'd still be pining after a dslr and having major anxiety daily if you hadn't taken me to the NEX that day. I love you.

So there you have it. That's my story. My testimony. Thanks for reading. ♥



  1. Great story. Great moment of self-discovery. Your intuition was talking to you and you listened. Look what can happen!! Dream on!

  2. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us. I enjoyed learning more about your journey. I have similar feelings about my teaching career. Your story gives me hope. Time to start praying!


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